SACRAMENTO, CA - "Howdy there, Buckaroos. My name is Jamoca Jack and I just came back from the diggings."
It's hard for students to stop laughing at a visitor at Natomas Park Elementary School in Sacramento.
Dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans, boots and hat and sporting a blonde beard and handle-bar mustache, Jack told students that he came to California to stake a claim during The Gold Rush in 1849. He pulled a large gold nugget from a small bag and told students when it comes to searching for gold, "There are no rules."
His listeners try to suppress even more giggles when he finds a poster showing he's wanted by the sheriff for horse stealing, gold pilfering, spitting and cussing.
Minutes later, Jack left and teacher Randy Hodge appeared. "Jamoca Jack told you all about the rules of gold panning," asked Hodge. "Yes!" yelled the students in unison.
Hodge said he portrays a host of characters to hold his students attention. "I do anything I can to make a lesson engaging and bring the students into the experience," Hodge said. "It's better than just having them read about it. So, I like to have classroom activities that are fun. The goal, of course, is getting them to learn."
Hodge showed students how people migrated across the country to come to California after gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills and Sacramento Valley.
He also grabbed a guitar and sang a song about the Gold Rush. Students laughed and giggled and sang along with him.
Then they grabbed some aluminum pie plates and ran out to the school garden to search for make-believe gold nuggets hidden among the flowers and vegetables.
Students quickly dug and sifted through the dirt to find dozens of nuggets they placed in small paper bags.
Hodge said he also takes his students on field trips to the State Capitol Building, museums and Monterey. "We want them to have experiences outside of the classroom," he said. "Just getting them to read, write and subtract doesn't necessarily get them to where we want them to be in the future. We want them to be problem solvers. We want to have people who can think critically about issues."
Hodge explained that he got a degree in finance and had a high paying job in the finance industry when he graduated from college. "But I eventually realized I didn't like my job," Hodge said. I didn't want to talk about it when I left for the day."
He decided to turn to teaching six years ago because of fond memories he had about two summer vacations spent teaching in Japan. "I don't want to do anything else," he explained. "I mean I'm the teacher and I'm still learning right along with my students. I also want them to have a passion for learning, a passion for education."